“An inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
I wonder how often you think about heaven, and about the glorious inheritance that is kept there for you, waiting for you to arrive and claim it. Over the last few months I’ve been slowly reading my way through a book called “The Saints Everlasting Rest” by a man called Richard Baxter. He was born not far from here, in Rowton, in 1615, and was a great Puritan church leader, particularly well known for his ministry in Kidderminster, where his faithful and diligent pastoral and discipling ministry saw many come to faith, and deepen their faith.
This whole book, which is in itself an abridgement of some of his writings and sermons, contains his thoughts on how important it is for Christians to understand the Everlasting Rest that is waiting for them, the dangers of missing out on it, how to avoid missing out on it, the disciplines that help us to attain it, and, most important of all, lengthy meditations on how great it is going to be.
Now, I was thinking of reading you some longer extracts from this book, but Liz convinced me that it wasn’t so easy to follow being read out, and that it would be better to give you some shorter quotes, and expand on them myself, so that is what I’m going to do. But, I would strongly encourage you to get hold of a copy yourself, and have a read. It’s not always easy going, and there are some portions I don’t agree with, but his passion for Jesus, and his focus on heaven I’ve found a real challenge to the warmth (or lack of it) of my desire for heaven, and its unfading riches.
So, I’m going to concentrate on a few things that Baxter suggests are important to help us live lives on earth that are intentionally directed towards our heavenly destination, and the riches that are there.
Firstly, “Be convinced that heaven is the only treasure and happiness, and labour to know what a treasure and happiness it is.”
He suggests that if unless we really believe, fully, that heaven is the best thing that we can experience, we will not pursue it whole heartedly.
“If your judgment prefers the delights of the flesh before the delights of the presence of God, it is impossible your heart should be in heaven.”
Imagine a bag of gold coins. Clinking, yellow, and heavy. We only value that because we know the value of Gold. If you’d never seen gold before, or couldn’t see in the bag and didn’t believe me when I said it had gold in it, if you thought it was just lead, then you wouldn’t value what was there. It is only when we believe that something has value that we are willing to put effort into gaining it.
“the world cries out for rest, and busily seeks for delight and happiness, because they know it not; for did they thoroughly know what it is, they could not slight the everlasting treasure.”
Secondly, “Labour to apprehend how near thy rest is.”
Baxter writes that we are more aware of things that are near to us, than things that are far away. Our attention is drawn to the things in the foreground of our lives, the immediate, the urgent, and we can lose sight of the things in the background, the things that are actually more important in the long run.
“People think on heaven so insensibly, because they perceive it at too great a distance; they look on it as twenty, thirty, forty years off.” How much better to look on eternity as near at hand.”
This, of course, resonates with Jesus’ teaching about always being alert and ready for his return, and the judgement that will happen when he does.
Thirdly, “Carefully observe and cherish the motions of the Spirit of God.”
I have to admit that this surprised me a bit. Here is a seventeenth century reformed puritan minister writing some really charismatic material. But here it is, in his hand.
“If ever thy soul get above this earth, and get acquainted with this heavenly life, the Spirit of God must be to thee the very living principle by which thou must move and ascend.”
He goes on to describe the way in which the Holy Spirit urges us to pray, convicts us of our sin, and guides us in the way that we should go. He then encourages us to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us a greater experience of the presence of God.
“Dost thou not feel sometimes a strong impression to retire from the world, and draw near to God? Do not disobey, but take the offer, and hoist up thy sails while this blessed gale may be had. The more of the Spirit we resist, the deeper will be the wound; and the more we obey, the speedier will be our pace.”
There’s much, much more that Baxter writes on this subject, but I hope that this morning we have just caught of flavour of what it might mean to live a life fully focussed on the treasure that awaits us in heaven, a treasure that was purchased for us by the blood of Jesus, and which we can enjoy in life beyond death, because of Jesus’ resurrection.
A final word from Richard Baxter,
“O that we could mind our own inheritance, and value it half as much as it deserves.”